Remember, we’re Americans first

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When I was a kid, my family took a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the sights. I especially remember the day we sat in the Senate gallery, watching a debate. There, I saw something strange — Teddy Kennedy, a Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Republican, sharing a friendly conversation and a laugh together. I later read those two were the best of friends, despite their vast differences on matters of policy.
If all one knew of American politics came from TV and newspapers, such a friendship would seem baffling. After all, we are taught, the parties are locked in an endless cycle of opposition — ideological oil and water. But as I learned myself when I got to the state legislature, it was a workplace just like any other. As I made my own friendships, I found politics usually had nothing to do with them. They were based on common life experiences, shared interests, and just plain personal chemistry. I was lucky to make an equal number of friends on both sides of the aisle, and many of those friendships are as strong as ever.
This may be an odd thing to say in an election year, but not everything is political. A conservative Republican and a liberal Democrat living in this country have more in common than not. Sometimes it’s easy to forget, but we were all Americans first, sharing the same cultural heritage and political tradition. We can relentlessly pick away at our differences, but when you look around the world it’s easy to see that they are, in a global sense, immaterial.
The reason this matters is that this is an election year. If you get on the Web, turn on the TV, or listen to the radio, you will constantly be bombarded with messages about what divides us. With a GOP primary under way, it’s not enough just to harp on the differences between Republicans and Democrats, but on the internal differences amongst Republicans. There’s no end to the subdivision of grievance.
This can go on for only so long before it begins to take its toll, to tear the common fabric that binds us together as Americans. We can’t let that happen.
This year is going to be awful — we know this. The attack ads are coming. Before the tsunami hits, it’s worth taking a deep breath and remembering that election campaigns are exaggerated for effect. We shouldn’t let them get the better of us.

Rob Witwer is a former member of the Colorado House of Representatives and co-author of the book “The Blueprint: How Democrats Won Colorado and Why Republicans Everywhere Should Care.”